The solution to Manchester United’s central defensive problems could be available immediately and cost nothing.
Academy star 18-year-old Teden Mengi may be young but he has met every challenge set for him at Old Trafford and, as Sir Matt Busby once famously said, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’.
The fact that United have just forked out up to £37 million for 18-year-old Amad Diallo when they could have signed Red Bull Leipzig’s top class centre back Dayot Upamecano for just a few million more demonstrates the club’s belief in youth. So what is holding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back in finally unleashing Mengi and seeing what he can do?
Sports psychologists often say that it is far better for a young graduate to be blooded in a settled, winning team rather than in a struggling side, but sometimes that is a luxury you cannot afford.
The fact is that Harry Maguire is too slow and enduring a terrible run of form. Victor Lindelof’s confidence is rock bottom, Chris Smalling has gone, Phil Jones is injured and has been a disaster in recent years even when fit, Eric Bailly is both injury and error prone, Axel Tuanzebe has also been blighted with numerous injuries and Marcos Rojo is, well, Marcos Rojo.
Mengi may be young, but does not have any of those issues. So why wait any longer?
The Manchester-born England Under-18 star made his senior debut in August in the Europa League second leg against Lask – just six minutes of a dead rubber. Our only proper glimpse of him so far in the senior team came in the pre-season friendly against Aston Villa. Mengi was brought on as a second-half substitute and immediately and nervelessly looked head and shoulders above the rest of the United defence in terms of quality, composure and pace.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer himself recently spoke about giving Mengi an opportunity.
‘Teden has definitely impressed me. You have got to make sure he’s ready for it,’ he said.
‘Ajax made Matthijs De Ligt captain when he was 18. Teden Mengi has something special in him.
‘It is about picking the right moment to give him a chance.’
Whilst Solskjaer’s fatherly protectiveness is laudable, with 11 goals conceded in United’s first three Premier League games, there may be only one way to make sure he’s ready for it and that is to throw him in at the deep end.
It does not matter whether a player cost £80 million or whether he cost nothing. It does not matter whether he is 18 or 28.
Solskjaer won’t know for sure until he tries it, but at this point, Teden Mengi could already be Manchester United’s best centre back.
This summer’s transfer window has been one of the strangest in living memory. So cast your mind back to less stressful days and test your knowledge of past United arrivals and departures in our quiz below.